“What is wrong with you?” shouted the man angrily, “You have brought a Lozi in my office. You are helping a Lozi!” I looked at John; his ever smiling face had turned into a puzzled and embarrassed look. He was puzzled because he didn’t expect it and was embarrassed because his uncle was a tribalist.
As for me, the words had pierced my heart like a double-edged savule (dagger). 'What is wrong in being Lozi? Is it a crime?' I asked myself. I had heard about tribalism but that day I stared it in its ugly eyes. 'One Zambia, One Nation!'; that is what they tell us. A country made up of 73 tribes; a country where inter-marriage is encouraged. We were at a sweet factory. Boys my age would be hired to pack sweets in boxes for a days’ wage of twenty five Zambian kwacha. That day I didn’t get hired simply because I was Lozi.
At home when I asked my mother what wrong I had committed in being Lozi, she didn’t have an answer but drew me close to her and hugged me. She assured me that all would be fine one day. I still can hear that man’s words in my mind as if it was yesterday. I still can see his eyes shining with hate.
However, 14th January, 2011 is the day that unlocked the door to my sense of belonging. As a youth, I wanted to belong. The night before, I had very little sleep. I could not sleep because I was excited. Lozi people were going to be free at last! Free from being second class citizens and free from being discriminated. I was now going to belong to a group of people, where I would not be discriminated. At last, I could go to any office without fear of hearing those piercing words: “You have brought a Lozi in my office.”
All roads that day led to Limulunga Royal village. My friend and I were not going to be left out. As we approached the T-junction of the road leading to Limulunga, we saw a police van in the middle of the road. The policemen were in anti riot gear. They were stopping people from going to Limulunga. Cars and bicycles were being turned back. The mini buses were impounded and parked on the road side.
A big mob had formed on the other side of the road. My friend and I quickly joined it. No sooner had we joined than the mob started to chant: “Linyungandambo! Linyungandambo!”
My heart was racing with excitement and anxiety. We joined in the chant. The chant was so loud that it sounded like a mighty rushing wind. In unison, the mob chanted. I felt hot blood rushing to my face and my heart beating very fast. We were so engrossed in the chant that we could not hear what the police command was shouting over the mega phone. His voice was swallowed by the chant. “Now I belong,” I shouted. A strong feeling of belonging swept over me. That feeling, a longing to belong that had been created ever since I heard those piercing words, started melting. I felt it evaporate from my heart. Now I belong to the Lozi people. A people who are claiming their true identity as Barotse. A people that have resolved to revert to a Kingdom that ran its own affairs and had its own native government. The unitary state called Zambia has failed. The Lozi people have always lived like foreigners in their own country.
We chanted for thirty minutes. Then it happened! The police fired tear-gas canisters in the air, followed by live bullet gun shots. We scampered. People with half blinded misty eyes and running noses ran in all directions, still chanting 'Linyungandambo!' Others were coughing violently and choking at the same time.
More live bullets were shot. The sound of whizzing bullets made me run even faster. Instinct told me to run for safety in the nearby Lubosi compound. The police were after us, arresting whoever they could lay their hands on. The arrested were bundled like charcoal bags in the police van.
As I slowed down, I called my friend. There was no answer. In the commotion, we had separated. Instead of running into the compound, he had run along the road going to town. I started walking to catch my breath. Word went around that a boy had been shot dead. Was it John? My heart skipped a beat. 'No, it can’t be.'
I stopped, and had to decide whether to go into town or go home. With the police on our heels, I decided to go home. Suddenly my phone rang. It was John!
MWANAMUKE NAWA is a Social Media commentator who has decided to share Manyando Manyando's personal 14th January 2011 experience.